St. Siricius - The Disciplinarian Pontiff

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Siricius was a Roman, the son of Tiburtius. He entered the service of the Church as a youth and served as a deacon from the time of Pope Liberius. He was unanimously elected to succeed Pope Damasus in December of 384.

St. Siricius is noted for being the author of the first papal decretal which has survived. There were earlier ones, but this is the first that has come down to modern times. A decretal contains an authoritative decision on questions of discipline. The occasion of this decretal was a letter from Himerius, bishop of Tarragona in Spain, who wrote to Pope Damasus asking for his decision in several matters of discipline. Siricius answered on February 10, and ordered that his reply should be communicated to the neighboring bishops. Among other things the Pope declared that converted Arians did not have to be rebaptized and that priests should be celibate.

On January 6, 386, Pope Siricius held a synod at Rome, attended by eighty bishops, at which a number of disciplinary decisions were made. The Pope sent these decisions to the bishops of North Africa. He also sent out a letter to various churches urging the election of worthy bishops and priests. But around 388, Siricius was to have something to worry about at home. A monk named Jovinian, who had enjoyed a reputation for a strict life, came to Rome and began to teach that after all a strict life was useless. Vows, virginity, fasting, and good works were of small avail. Jovinian, quite consistently, gave up his strict life and not content with taking it easy himself began to persuade a number of monks and nuns to give it all up and get married. Lay people, scandalized at this, urged Siricius to do something. The Pope then held a synod in 390 which condemned the theories of Jovinian and excommunicated him and his chief followers. Siricius then sent three priests to Milan to tell St. Ambrose about the synod. Ambrose himself held a synod which praised the Pope for his watchfulness and repeated the condemnation of Jovinian.

Pope Siricius received an embassy from the East asking him to put an end to the long-drawn-out schism in the see of Antioch. For years two bishops and their successors had disputed the bishopric. Now Pope Siricius granted the plea that he recognize the last survivor, Flavian, as true bishop and readmit him to communion.

The venerable Basilica of St. Paul's-Without-the-Walls, which was destroyed by fire in 1823, was built by Siricius. He dedicated this famous church in 390.

St. Siricius is buried in the Cemetery of Priscilla. His feast is kept on November 26.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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